A Budo Bum in London, 1999

Just came across this old article, really takes me back. Still 10 yrs on and it still resonates with me strongly - I can see how far in my journey I've come, but still feel like on on the first rung!.

Letters from London
The Adventures of an Aikidoka while touring the UK
by Daniel James
(Kiai - Aikido Ki Society Newsletter Jan 1999, (4)pp10-11)
Hello to all Down Under,
I have been living in London now for about 6 months. I am currently working, travelling and trying to continue my Aikido training amidst the hustle and bustle of a big city. Rather than bore you all with travel stories I will endeavour to do the same with Aikido stories. Unfortunately it seems that amongst the plethora of Aikido dojos available in London there are no Ki Society ones.

My first experience of British Ki Society was attending a seminar in July 1998 given by Yoshigasaki up in Birmingham (located in the British Midlands few hundred miles North of London). One of the Ki Society folk from London way was kind enough to give me a lift up and back (even though I had never seen him or any Ki Society persons in the UK). I originally sourced the seminar information from the Internet and just started ringing and hassling people around the country to get more info, but I digress.

For the start of the seminar I was invited to read the Ki saying. Imagine my surprise as after I read out the title, the entire dojo repeated it aloud. This then continued for the whole of the saying - I am sure the look on my face was quite hmm.. surprised. The mischievous part of my brain was screaming to say something from the Life of Brian about individuality, but this is perhaps not an appropriate forum to share those thoughts. After the usual warm-ups (well they were a little different – the breathing for instance is done standing up and includes some tonal chanting) Yoshigasaki was introduced.

Yoshigasaki lives permanently in Belgium (I believe) and his English is quite excellent, as is his French and Italian. While he moves like the other senior Japanese instructors I have seen his style of teaching is much more westernised, presumably because he spends most of his time outside of Japan. I found his approach excellent and it really helped to fill in some of the gaps in my own knowledge by looking at Aikido from this slightly different view point (now if only I can get my body to do what I want it to!). Yoshigasaki isn’t big on explaining Ki (neither do the British Sensei’s seem to talk at length about it ...in a philosophical sense anyway). Instead he talks a lot about ‘concepts’ and ‘perceptions’. He said we learn Aikido by fitting the reality of what we see to our existing concept of Aikido. If our concept is not a good one then it will be really hard for us to improve, since anything we are taught we try to fit to our existing concept. Only by constantly examining and modifying our concept of Aikido do we allow improvement to take place.
He spoke a little about different particular concepts prior to each technique, which allowed me to look at techniques using other fundamentals I had not seen before. I also enjoyed his occasional use of physics to explain things (probably because I am a physicist). 

For example he said, “All Aikido is about do- ing everything in the most efficient way possible”, i.e. it is the shortest distance between two points or a straight line. He then tempered this by saying the shortest distance between two points on the globe is of course a straight line. It only appears to be circular because of the shape of the globe (interesting) and went on to show some examples of this in our waza, which we then practised and fumbled our way through.
I have been to a number of Ki Society dojos outside London since the seminar and have found them to be the style I expect, but also quite unique. Each sensei imparting something special. However, the search goes on for a regular dojo in London where I can continue to build on what I have learnt in Australia without learning bad habits.

There are two organisations that were once affiliated with the Ki Society that have dojos in London, one group I have been training with regularly and the other I have unfortunately not been able to train with as I would need to leave the Ki Society to do so (aiki-politics). It’s been fun to train with the former group because it’s quite similar to Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido, but not... if you take my meaning.

You can really see how they have started to evolve their own style since departing from Tohei’s organisation. Sensei Curry likes his techniques to operate on the uke ‘on the spot’ without using huge big projections and teaching using words like ‘compression’ (as in compression of the joints) ‘levers’ and balances to explain how things work. He has spent a lot of time evaluating Aikido and has some interesting street style techniques that work well without using a lot of body movement.

The training does seem to be a little less rigorous in terms of testing how well techniques work without a fully co-operating uke (though this may just be for safety reasons). Certainly the senior students are fun to train with. Its been tough to learn Aikido using his models but looking at Aikido through his eyes will hopefully enable me to see some things I have been unable to see so far.

I have also visited a number of other London Aikido dojos (of other styles) that have been martially effective and cer- tainly fantastic for ukemi and breakfall practice! Unfortunately some of them were a little less than generous in their opinion of the Ki styles of Aikido in the UK; but well I just bow and nod at appropriate times and try to learn what I can. In as much as I am not a real ‘Ki-ster’ I found the principles of relaxation and extension as valuable tools for training with these ‘harder’ styles.
Firstly as a means of protection, secondly for being a good uke (though I was chastised for holding too softly in the katatori techniques, even though nage couldn’t break my grip!) and thirdly as being an effective nage for dealing with the grips of iron in kokyu dosa practice. Wow! Softness really is more powerful. My Sensei’s kept saying this, I guess I am a slow learner and need to keep being reminded. Anyway I have taken away lots of good stuff from these dojos. Most importantly I need to fix up some of the martial aspects of my ukemi (e.g like not turning my back on nage for a quick tickle of my carotid artery). Also in the weapons class I learnt much about some of the other styles of bokken – together with some interesting katas.

With odd bouts of dedication I have been visiting some of the UK Ki Society dojos, like at Brighton and also up to Coventry to visit Sensei Burgess’s dojo. The nearest is located in Brighton a delightful seaside town south of London with pebbled beaches and all. Brighton is not unlike Byron Bay in many respects, as it seems to be the UK Mecca for alternative lifestyle stuff, though it has a reputation for being a bit wild at night. Coventry on the other hand is located some 3 hours North of London (sometimes longer but that is another story) and Sensei’s local pub serves excellent pints of Guinness with cheese and pickle sandwiches after class.

Unfortunately it is only an option for weekends and I find myself constantly torn between travelling or training on weekends, and it tends to be the former that takes a distinct pri- ority at the moment. I am however certain this will change with the onset of the winter weather. Chiefly because a weekend hike in driving rain is much less appealing than even the thought of taking head high juji nage ukemi from an over zealous Welsh “built like a brick shit house” uchideshi (not that this is the case).
The Ki Society folks are always very welcoming and quite a few of them have even trained in Australian Ki Society dojos. I think I am training in the right place when I feel like a complete beginner doing a waza for the first time (even though with the local variations it can seem like it). This is a feeling I have had most often in the Ki Society dojos over here where the sensei’s and fellow students provide a challenging but friendly place to learn. I guess the challenge for me is to maintain this feeling in any Aikido dojo (of any style?) anywhere I train. (Is this like the cup that is half-full or half-empty type story?)
I continue to bump into many Australian aikidoka over here (hi Pip and Kevin) including some Byron Bay ex-pats and in many ways it seems to be a bit of a worldwide community, which is great. Overall the feeling that I have been left with is an overwhelming sense of just how fortunate I have been to be able to learn Aikido in Australia. At the risk of being self- congratulatory I have felt comfortable training and taking the classes in any of the Aikido dojos I have visited so far over here. I believe this is as a direct result of the excellent Australian Sen- sei’s and their interest and instruction, not to mention my fellow dojo ‘aiki-grunts’ who have shared their Aikido with me. This kind of instruction I may have taken slightly for granted back home, but you don’t seem to miss something until it is gone and I have been missing it over here.

Notes from a Novice.
by Phillipa Jones

I have also landed in London and found myself an Aikidoda without a dojo. You can imagine I was thrilled to learn that there was a Ki Aikido dojo a very short walk from me. I soon found out, however, that this was not my beloved Shin Shin Toistu. The class was terrible for me. I went with a closed mind and found myself rebelling against all the “differences? or in my mind ?bad things? about the class. The teacher ended up berating me for resisting a technique that was being applied by a junior belt. Not my brightest Aikido moment. The class ended with some Alexandra Technique, the teachers other speciality, which was an obvious treat for the rest of the class. But I was just disgusted as I had come to learn Aikido not this stuff and missed out on an opportunity to have my world expanded.

My search for Ki Society in London proved fruitless and I quickly gave up. Luckily a friend from the Griffith Dojo, Danny arrived in London. Danny is a lot more experienced and adventurous than me and so I began following him around to various dojos, occasionally to train but more often just to watch. IbegantoseehowlimitedmyexperienceofAikido hasbeen.I have now trained in a very freestyle atmosphere, watched Senseis that use very few words to teach, sat with a class through their 15 minute tea & biscuit break and trained with a Sensei from Belgium. One style was like watching a formal Japanese fan dance, the compressions were performed very slowly and with great precision. It did not surprise me to learn that the teacher was formerly a dancer.

I stopped looking for the faults and saw the strength and beauty in each style. In particular the freestyle allowed me to discover that I could instinctively react and make an effec- tive move on my nage. It was very relaxing not to get caught up in the imperfections of each move and just get into the flow. I have finally learnt something, that as in life we all bring our own experience and richness to Aikido. Every person whether a beginner or a master has something to teach us and - most of all - that there are many paths to higher knowledge and it is up to each of us to find our way or place of the way. Thank you to all those who have been guiding lights along my path I remember you with every step.